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Obituary: Mr Fred Robertson

Mr Fred Robertson

A gathering of Classics Department staff in the gardens at London Road, 1983. Fred Robertson is second from right. Others, from left to right, are: J.G. Landels, Deryck Williams (lighting his ever-present pipe), Tessa Rajak (now Emeritus Professor), A.

We were saddened to learn recently of the death (aged 90) of Fred Robertson, who joined the Reading Classics Department in 1954-55 and remained one of its most significant staff members until 1985, when he left to take up the post of Grammatikos at Oxford.  Robertson (MA, Aberdeen; BA, Cambridge) was a Latinist with a particular expertise in the poetry of the Augustan age.  He published a number of authoritative articles on this theme (for example, ‘Allegorical Interpretations of Virgil’, Proceedings of the Virgil Society 1966-67).  

However, his influence in this field was arguably enacted most powerfully through other means: first, by his involvement in the Virgil Society, as whose Secretary he served, and second, by his work as translator of Richard Heinze’s important 1903 book Vergils epische Technik.  The appearance in 1993 of the English version, Virgil’s Epic Technique, translated by Robertson and by Hazel and David Harvey, was greeted by a spate of reviews acknowledging the significance not only of Heinze’s original but of the translation, which was hailed for its accuracy, elegance and clarity.  

What was the Reading Classics Department like, when Robertson was part of it?  Its excellence in Latin literature had already been established in 1945 with the appointment of R. Deryck Williams, author of, among other things, commentaries on the Aeneid.  So influential were Williams and Robertson in the activity of the Virgil Society that it was referred to by John Henderson as ‘that (then) Reading mafia’.  As the years passed, the Department consolidated its strength in Roman social history with the appointments of K.D. White (Roman agriculture, technology and economy) and Jane Gardner (Roman law).  With Robertson, such figures gave Reading Classics one of its core areas of scholarly expertise, which is maintained into the present day.

As for Robertson’s teaching, his contribution is perhaps best evoked by the recollection of former student Jackie Baines, now a Teaching Fellow and Latin specialist in the Department:

‘In my days as a student in the Classics department Fred Robertson was not only an inspirational and engaging lecturer but also very kind, supportive and approachable.  He is someone I shall always remember fondly.’

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